Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee leaves for Kazakhstan Sunday for a two-day summit of 16 Asian nations that will also be attended by Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf. Amid escalating tensions between the two countries, diplomatic efforts at the conference are expected to focus on calming the crisis. Meanwhile there has been fresh violence in the Kashmir region.
Indian officials said Prime Minister Vajpayee has virtually ruled out a direct meeting with Pakistan's President Musharraf in Kazakhstan.
But high-power diplomacy will be at work in Kazakhstan's main city Almaty to pull the two countries back from the brink of war. The conference begins Monday. Mr. Vajpayee is extending his stay in Almaty by a day to meet Russian and Chinese leaders on the current crisis with Pakistan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold bilateral meetings with both the Indian and Pakistani leaders, in an effort to facilitate a dialogue between them.
Mr. Putin had offered to organize face-to-face talks between the two leaders at Almaty - but New Delhi's foreign ministry reiterated that India will only talk to Pakistan if it meets its key demand of halting infiltration of Islamic militants into Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies aiding the militants, and General Musharraf has said he is willing to meet Mr. Vajpayee, "anywhere, anytime."
A professor of Security Studies at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, Brahma Chellaney, said there are several reasons Mr. Vajpayee is reluctant to meet General Musharraf.
"Today, in the midst of a war-like situation, Prime Minister Vajpayee does not have the political room to speak to General Musharraf. Because, if he were to be seen talking to General Musharraf, he will damage his own credibility at home. Because he has made it very clear that, unless Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism, India will not talk to Pakistan. At a time when half-a-million Indian troops are poised for war along the border, and events are leading India toward war, in that situation, for Prime Minister Vajpayee to be seen shaking hands with General Musharraf, will send a very bad message, not only to his domestic constituency, but also to the Pakistani military," he said.
Mr. Vajpayee last met the Pakistani leader in January, at a regional South Asian summit in Nepal. A tense handshake and the exchange of a few words failed to lower the tensions on the subcontinent.
Meanwhile, there has been fresh violence in Kashmir. Police officials blamed Muslim militants for a grenade lobbed at a security force patrol in Srinagar. The explosion killed a boy and injured several soldiers. Officials also reported heavy shelling and firing between the Indian and Pakistani armies along the line of control separating the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. The firing has continued for more than two weeks.